Monday, August 29, 2016

Say It Ain't So

So I am recording and watching the last season of SyFy's original paranormal reality show, Ghost Hunters, and loving and mourning every second of it. I was a little late coming to the show (maybe by about two years or so) but I became an avid and regular fan inside of one viewing. I watched every Ghost Hunter and Ghost Hunter International show that I could find. I bought the books written by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. I even dragged Jim along to see Jason Hawes and Steve Gonsalves do a presentation down in Joliet, Illinois. I am a fan-girl of the first order.

So I am a bit sad that the show is coming to an end. As far as I'm concerned, Ghost Hunters was an original and set the bar (and the requirements) for every paranormal investigation reality show that followed in its wake. And there were a lot: A Haunting; Paranormal State; Ghost Adventurers; Ghost Mine; Ghost Asylum; Deep South Paranormal; Haunted Alaska - what am  I missing? Any show that includes investigation seems to owe at least a partial debt to Ghost Hunters. They were the ones who introduced all of us to things like EMF detectors, Rem-Pods, laser grids, infrared cameras, and stationary video cameras set up to catch every nuance of a possible haunting.

And Ghost Hunters, at least to me, proved how seriously people took their trade by being invited to investigate not only personal homes, but historical sites like Gettysburg and the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, among a whole slew of others. The fact that a such locations would invite The Atlantic Paranormal Society in to investigate possible hauntings says quite a lot about the group.

In addition to all the super scientific equipment, the investigators themselves were great about injecting humor and a light-hearted element into the shows they taped, saving each episode from becoming overly serious or full of self-importance. There were wise-cracks and in-jokes for long-time viewers, and even some silliness, although maybe that was just the staff getting slap-happy from staying up all those night and wandering around in the dark with infrared vision. Whatever it was, it worked.

I guess that Mr. Hawes has suggested that there is still more out there for them to do. He is quoted as saying something about "huge things to come," so I hope that's true.

In the meantime, I'll watch the last episodes and catch repeats if they have them so that I can remember the group of people who let me tag along on their investigations in the best way possible: in the comfort and safety of my own home -with all the lights on.

Thanks, gang.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Paranormal Explosion

Years ago, think the late '90's, I had a job that allowed me access to the Internet and also afforded me chunks of downtime. Since I was still relatively new to quick Internet access (we had dial-up at home: remember all those weird sounds it would make when it was connecting?) I would sometimes get online and search for ghost stories. There was one site in particular that I really liked and I spent my free time reading ghost stories related by people from all over the country.

Since that time and the invention of search engines, looking for ghost stories brings up an amazing result. Just like when I was at that job, sometimes I will search for "ghost stories" or "paranormal" or specific things like "Sasquatch" or "mermaids." And I am always blown away by the lists and pages that pop up on any of those topics.

Before I sat down to write this, I looked up "ghost stories." Holy Halloween, Batman! There were pages and pages of sites offering true ghost stories, videos, ghost hunts, pictures, and all manner of things paranormal. Note: I already know that looking up "supernatural" leads straight to my beloved TV series so I don't use that as a topic when I'm searching.

Anyone having access to the Destination America network, and who actually watches it (and why wouldn't you? They just picked up The Haunted Collector's old shows!) will have seen an advertisement for yet another website: Destination America's very own The I spent a little time trying to find it and learned that you have to type in "Destination America" as well as the website name. But I found it. Lots of videos and excerpts from shows like A Haunting. I plan to check it out from time to time to see if they ever pick up anything not related to television.

In the meantime, I have a folder of bookmarked paranormal articles and sites that have caught my attention and that I might want to visit again. This is related to the file of actual newspaper clippings and magazine articles that I have about ghosts, hauntings, and unexplained phenomena. I keep the file on a shelf close to a slew of books about true ghost stories. And every Halloween I peruse the newspapers and the Internet to see what comes up. It's nice to have a holiday related to all of this - it's like an early Christmas for paranormal aficionados!

So I continue to add to my collection of article and books and online sites.

But I don't want any more dead people hanging around my office, so I will never again bookmark any site having to do with memento mori. Pictures of people who are dead and then posed in a studio are just a little too disturbing for me. But you don't have to take my word for it. Go ahead and search "memento mori" and see what pops up. Or pops into your house...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dream a Little Dream

The Amazon jungle is humid, heavy with moisture. Trees grow close enough to filter or even block sunlight. Moisture drips from leaves and vines. Creatures rustle through the brushy undergrowth, and close inspection will reveal myriad insects living their busy lives along tree trunks, branches, fronds, roots, underfoot, and overhead. Strange calls and sounds, different from those heard in a city or even a farm, vibrate all around, some from a distance, some from mere inches away. The jungle is alive and brimming with both the strange and the familiar. And it is an easy place to die.

It is thus also a desirable place to set up a lab focused on classified work, away from prying eyes, unanswerable questions, and the majority of investigative journalists. Some things are better not hidden in plain sight.

Dr. Marie Gomer and Dr. Lisette Esterly had grown accustomed to the razor wire-topped fences around the compound, the armed Marine escort when they walked just seven hundred yards from their living quarters to the drab concrete building that was the lab itself, the feeling of dense isolation and being at the ends of the earth. The entire place was routinely sprayed for insects, but that didn't seem to make much of a difference. Everyday they battled their way through swarms of small and irritating buzzing things, overnight webs, and the ever-present moisture in the air that left Dr. Gomer's hair in strings, and turned Dr. Esterly's to frizz. They were even used to that.

But things were finally falling into place. Even Sgt. Hanes, the huge, no-nonsense Marine who was their escort, was finally beginning to relax enough to smile at Dr. Esterly's daily cheerful "good morning."

The lab at the end of their short walk was air-conditioned and clean and quiet, and if it hadn't been neither woman believed she would have tolerated their situation for very long. But the research itself, categorized as micro- biophysiology, was fascinating, and in a matter of weeks they had both settled into a comfortable routine with each other and with their lab assistants.  Time flew and even though Dr. Gomer felt that she would like to leave as soon as her six-month rotation was up, she found herself wondering if she might re-up for the next session.

The afternoon seemed dark when they left the lab, carefully locking the door behind them. Their assistants had long since departed, and Dr. Esterly looked for Sgt. Hanes who was not waiting for them in his usual spot. She was about to call out his name when Dr. Gomer put a silencing hand on her arm and pointed. 

Several yards away, they saw the sergeant's cap lying upside down on the grass. That was not something that would happen if Sgt. Hanes had anything to say about it. As they looked further, they realized there were footprints in the intermittent patches of soft ground that was not covered over with the various greens of native foliage. They both crept up to the helmet, realizing something was wrong, not sure what to make of the soldier's desertion. Duty was his middle name: being absent from his post spoke volumes, none of it good.

When they reached the helmet, they were astonished to see one of his boots several yards ahead. In unspoken agreement, they began to follow what became a trail of discarded items: the cap; the boot; a glove; his sunglasses; and then most disturbing of all, first his knife and then his rifle. They looked at each other. The jungle noises seemed muffled to them, and a feeling of foreboding grew with the clouds that were threatening to swallow the sun.

Several more yards and they both stopped. Sitting on a camp stool, leaning against the wall of an outbuilding, were what looked like the rest of Sgt. Hanes's uniform. The camouflage pants and shirt, even the  socks and one boot looked as if they were left in place while the Sgt. somehow walked out of them. The shirt was buttoned. The belt was buckled. And then they realized what was holding the uniform in place.

Inside the clothing, as well as protruding up where his head should have been, the scientists saw Sgt. Hanes's skin. The skull-less face above the shirt collar looked like a collapsed flesh-colored balloon with holes where the eyes, nose, and mouth should have been. Boneless hands lay flaccid beneath the sleeves, still attached to the skin of his arms. His feet were equally deflated, the socks lying loosely around the flattened flesh.

The sergeant appeared to have melted. Dr. Esterly said it first, but Dr. Gomer frowned. No, she disagreed with her colleague. It's more like he molted...

This is the kind of dream I have when I'm not actively writing.  I have always wondered if other writers do this, too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Missing: One Muse

There are times a writer has to search, dig, and tunnel for words. And don't kid yourself: sometimes using TNT comes to mind as well. Some people call it "writer's block." Since I have heard that phrase applied to everything from "I don't know what to write about" to "I don't know how to tell this story" by way of "I don't really know what I'm doing here," I prefer to use the much more scientific term of stuck.

After I finish a piece of fiction, I always land squarely in the land of stuck. I guess that means I need to re-charge, but it also puts me in awe of writers like Stephen King (well, I'm usually in awe of him anyway) or John Grisham, who start a new project immediately after finishing the last. My brain can't even wrap itself around that idea. Whenever I come close to finishing something and I think, hey, this would probably be a good time to begin blocking out the next book, my brain responds consistently with the same question: "You want me to what?" And there it is.

Since I released BPC 3, Drawing Vengeance, I have also released two novellas. One was Missing Persons, the sequel to Saving Jake. The other was A Scattering of Bones, a Kindle World story for Terri Reid's Mary O' Reilly Kindle World. I finished that story early in June. Today is the last single-digit day in August, and my brain is still asking me the same question. You want me to what?

I write about my muse from time to time, usually in complaint mode and I suppose I ought to stop that. Maybe she'd come back to me sooner if I didn't complain about her so much. On the other hand, when she's here, she is frequently giving -no, make that throwing- ideas at me that have nothing to do with the next book. They are ideas that will find their way into books at least one more down the road, sometimes farther. In other words, not super-helpful to me at this particular time. Yet, that has never stopped her. So I sit here, trying to find the entry point to BPC 4, and she is playing with ideas for BPC 5. It is something that is both comforting and annoying. That is, when she's here at all. She hasn't been around for some time and I am tired of trying to find her. 

On the other hand, I have not been faithful to the one thing that I know a lot of my hero writers do when they are writing a book. They read. Having just renewed my library card, I know that I should take a drive and pick out my usual six novels and get started. I have heard of writers who don't read while they are actively writing, fearing the influence of other's styles. But I have found that I tend to, well, dry up if I don't have input from any number of different writers. As Mr. King once said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write." That may sound weird, but I consider words to be an actual flowing substance, and if I'm not submersed in them, then my own tend to wither away and disappear. 

So my next step in taking another stab at book 4 will be to ignore it entirely, and spend some serious time reading instead. Reading someone else's work, especially when it's magical, makes me want to touch that same magic again. And then my muse returns as if by invitation, and work begins . And hopefully, when she does come back this time, the work will be done very quickly.

That way I can find myself once more smack dab in the land of stuck.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Some Things Are Better Left Untried - Except Maybe One

In spite of all my years of reading books about ghosts, writing them, interviewing people with stories to tell, collecting tales from people who stop by my desk at author signings, I have never once in my life participated in a seance. Not even at a pajama party.

Some of the stories I've collected have been from people who have attended at least one seance. Like the story I heard where a group of girls were listening as one talked about a dead firefighter and then the candle in the middle of the table, the only light in the dark room, extinguished itself and fell over. The room was filled with darkness and fear and screaming girls, and I don't blame them.

(Note: several of the ghost stories I've been told are about dead firefighters: I wonder why that is?)

In all my years of reading books and collecting stories about scary urban (or not) legends, I've never tried any of them. I'm not close enough to any of the railroad crossings where you can park your car across the tracks in the dead of night and have it pushed out of harm's way. If the car has been sprinkled with baby powder or flour, you can see the hand prints of the ghostly children who have saved both your life and your car, the reason being that these unfortunate children were killed in a school bus that stalled out while crossing the same train tracks. I think I've read of two different railroad crossings that boast this particular phenomenon but I don't live near either of them.

I have never tried going into a dark bathroom and saying "Bloody Mary" or the alternative "I believe in Bloody Mary" three times while looking into the mirror to have her appear and scratch out my eyes. I do know someone who tried it and stopped immediately after saying it twice - after she noticed an image showing up in the mirror as she looked into it. (And it was too dark to see her own reflection.)

I have never tried -and this is probably the one thing I want to do- looking for the ghost lights in Marfa, Texas or Chapel Hill, Tennessee or Brown Mountain, North Carolina or the Upper Peninsula, Michigan. But I would. I have a friend who went up to see the lights in Michigan. She told me it was colder than all get-out and that she saw them at around one o'clock in the morning so she was both tired and freezing. But she also said that it was well worth it, because in that part of the UP, as they call it, you are in the middle of nowhere. Just you and a road and the dark and these unexplained lights. And the lights move. They gave her chills that were unrelated to the air temperature. And in the Upper Peninsula, like everywhere else this happens, no one can quite explain the lights. Swamp gas doesn't cut it in a place like Michigan in winter, and distant headlights from cars or even trains don't make sense; the lights have been reported since before cars were invented or the railroads were in place. Some of these locations are nowhere near railroad tracks anyway.

Yes, I would go do that.

But a seance? No way. They are too much like the Ouija board to me: you never know you who might be connecting with.

And Bloody Mary? Ditto. I already worry about seeing someone else in a mirror with me. I don't need anything nasty popping up and then scratching out my eyes. I'm waaaayyyyy too chicken to try that.

But the lights -  now, those I would try going to see, in any of the above places if I happen to be there at some point. They sound fascinating. The pictures I've seen have been a little unnerving-but in a good way, somehow- and seeing the lights would be an experience I could add to my memory card catalog. 

Anyone want to come along?